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Have the (comparatively) pro-prostitution, or at least prostitution-friendly policies of places like Germany and Nevada been linked to a decrease in sex related crimes like sexual assault and rape?

I ask this as advocates of prostitution often tell me that giving the people a way to sexually vent themselves will reduce the amount of low level crime, especially things like rape and sexual assault by giving them a legal alternative for pleasure (as well as giving poorer women a 'respectable' way to make a living, and help them escape poverty.)

I'm just wondering how true this statement is, as thus far I often find myself subscribing to it, and I'm just wondering if I'm in the right or not.

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    Keep in mind that a causal relation between policies and changes in crime statistics are usually hard to prove, because there are a lot of factors which contribute to the latter. – Philipp Apr 30 '17 at 21:54
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    Related question on Skeptics.SE: Does legalizing prostitution decrease sexual violence against all women? – Andrew Grimm Apr 30 '17 at 22:02
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    @Phillip also, in the case of rape, the crime statistic (criles actually reported to the police) is significantly lower than the actual crime rate (estimated to be around 1 in 5 reported in the US here, I heard the same number for France): mainweb-v.musc.edu/vawprevention/research/sa.shtml – user5751924 May 1 '17 at 10:32
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    Uhm... I am not certain that there are pro sex work policies anywhere (that'd imply they are designed to explicitly encourage or benefit sex work). At best, there are "less anti" policies, especially in Nevada where the policies aren't nearly as lenient as one assumes. – user4012 May 1 '17 at 14:15
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    Most rape is not actually a crime of passion but rather a crime of violence. The pleasure does not come from the act of sex but rather the dominance and humiliation and feeling of power of the other person. What it can affect is trafficking and exploitation crimes by removing the street walkers and reducing the incentive to utilize sex trafficking victims. It also reduces the STD risk, which has an exponential cumulative benefit to the health of the community. – SoylentGray May 2 '17 at 18:28
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Firstly, I should point out that most sexual crime is committed by someone the victim knows - 'stranger danger' is less of a fear than 'partner danger'... or in many circumstances 'pimp danger'.

Rape and sexual assault are generally not about sex, but have more to do with the assertion of power. Given this, laws providing greater access to sex (assuming that you have the economic power necessary to access that service) are highly unlikely to directly reduce sexual crime.

Laws against prostitution have many other negative social effects, but I don't think there is any direct evidence that they reduce most rape and sexual assault.

One possible exception to this is when a sexual assault/rape victim is a prostitute and prostitution is illegal. This provides potential encouragement for an assailant, who may choose their target in the knowledge that their victim may feel unable to report the crime - in the same way that a drug dealer is unlikely to report the theft of their illicit drugs. Crimes against prostitutes in areas where prostitution is illegal are higher than crimes against prostitutes where prostitution is lawful. It is not possible to simply state that this means those crimes are higher overall - it may be that where prostitution is legal such crimes are committed against other victims (again, seeking out those who are most vulnerable).

There is also the meme of the law enforcement officer who demands their 'share of the business' in order to 'turn a blind eye'. While it is impossible to say whether/how commonly this occurs, it would not be so likely in places where prostitution is legal.

While I support legal prostitution, this is based on the belief that consenting adults should be allowed to do what they want as long as there are no victims. While prostitution is illegal, the prostitute is a victim every day. I cannot say that sexual crimes would fall with legalisation of prostitution - but I can say that the lives of prostitutes are likely to be safer if they are legally recognised.


Edit (13 November 2017): there have been requests for academic sources, to which I feel I should respond.

There are papers saying that legal prostitution reduces rape. This article discusses UCLA research (published here) showing that lawful prostitution resulted in fewer rapes and lower rates of sexually transmitted disease. It is disappointing that the law in Rhode Island was subsequently changed to re-criminalise prostitution. This discussion paper (PDF) (a link to the final in this article about it was broken) also indicates that legalising prostitution - in The Netherlands - reduces rape. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to extrapolate from 'rape of prostitutes' to 'total rape' - especially when many sexual assaults are unreported.

It is on this basis that I have stated that 'there is no clear evidence that legalising prostitution reduces sexual crime'. It is simply too difficult to draw a straight line from point A to point B. One of the articles to which I have linked states about the research:

Without precise data on the victims of sexual violence, it is not possible to determine exactly how the number of rapes and cases of sexual abuse fall in the population at large. Some victims are sex workers. But the authors believe the tippelzones lead “to a decrease in sexual violence on women more generally by providing an anonymous, appealing and easily accessible outlet for sex to otherwise violent individuals.”

The authors cannot go beyond 'belief' in seeking to evaluate an overall effect on the population.

There are many more studies than the two to which I have referred, but they all have the same fundamental problem in trying to make the leap from 'this is what happens to prostitutes' to 'this is what happens in the general population'. Under-reporting and non-reporting of sexual assault means that it is not possible to give an absolute answer.

As a final part of this edit, I will provide two more references that are relevant. Firstly, an article titled Physical Abuse of Prostitutes is Common. The title speaks for itself, while the article focuses upon prostitutes who are 'working illegally'. The final link is to an Australian study, similarly looking at sexual assault of sex workers (PDF). While it is 40 pages, this is worth a read as it constitutes an in-depth examination of the issue in several jurisdictions.

I hope this additional information is useful. It does at least correct one part of my original comment. In paragraph 4 I identified sexual assault of prostitutes where their activities were illegal was a 'possible' exception. Strike the word 'possible' - it is clear from these studies that sex workers are more likely to be assaulted when they are operating illegally.

  • I don't see how you found that the studies showed decriminalization improved safety for prostitutes... that's not addressed by the San Francisco study, and it was contradicted on page 14 of the Australia study on account of the steps-to-comply making prostitutes more vulnerable than they were when they operated "freely" as criminals. – elliot svensson Sep 12 '18 at 19:07
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This is absolutely a non-sequitor as there much be an assumptive link between sexual crime and procuring sex, or more specifically, that having consensual sex reduces a desire for criminal sexual acts. I could site statistics showing how increased acceptance of sexual promiscuity increases all sex, both legal and illegal. Or, I could use an example of a sexual criminal saying they had feelings of repression. The two are simply not linked.

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    When you can cite statistics which say that this is true, please do so. Without a proper source, this answer is just conjecture based on personal estimation. – Philipp Oct 2 '17 at 8:44
  • This is more an opinion than an answer. Please provide more sources of your claim. – nelruk Sep 13 '18 at 22:43

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